They Might Be Giants
Severe Tire Damage
They Might Be Giants have ended a long association with Elektra and have found a new home at Restless, the label that issued last year’s two-disc retrospective (and not coincidentally, distributed their earliest releases on the Bar/None label). That’s not the only way that Severe Tire Damage can be viewed as a return to the band’s roots. Damage is largely a live greatest hits album, with more than half the record devoted to live versions of classics like “She’s an Angel,” “Particle Man,” “Ana Ng,” and “Birdhouse in Your Soul.” While that alone is enough to have ardent TMBG fans at their local record store before they finish reading this sentence, there’s more: three new studio tracks, two brand-new songs presented live, and a seven-track live opus that I’ll go into in more detail in a bit.
TMBG have grown into one of the most compelling live acts around, and it’s not hard to recapture the magic felt at a live gig when listening to the live versions of crowd-pleasers like “Why Does the Sun Shine?,” “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” and “She’s Actual Size.” More intriguing, though, is the live version of Apollo 18‘s “Spider,” a song that was largely made up of samples in its original version, here painstakingly reconstructed live; somehow, they maintain the integrity of the original’s atmosphere without the effects. Even more appealing is the live version of “Meet James Ensor,” recorded, according to the liner notes, “sitting on the floor of the Paramount Hotel in NYC.” This take is simply John Flansburgh and John Linnell harmonizing, with only Linnell’s accordion as accompaniment. It’s intensely personal and absolutely charming; you can’t help but sing along. Of the two new songs presented live, “They Got Lost” has been a staple of recent live shows; it’s foot-stomping fun while lost on the highway. “First Kiss” is even newer, though, and to my ears, still sounds a bit raw.
Of the new studio tracks, “Doctor Worm” is another staple of the band’s live act, and it’s classic TMBG all the way. “Severe Tire Damage Theme” is a kooky instrumental, while “About Me” is a short torchy number that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on their self-titled debut.
Then there’s the album’s climax: tracks 18-24 were created spontaneously live on stage, and comprise a rock opera based on the Planet of the Apes films (that sound you just heard was Ink Nineteen‘s Features Editor, David Lee Beowulf, yelping in astonishment). Not only are these tracks a hell of a lot of fun, but they also show off the band’s unique creativity and style. The sound quality isn’t as good on these tracks (in fact, they sound like a high-quality bootleg), but their enthusiasm and energy more than makes up for it.
All of you long-time, hardcore TMBG fans have probably already picked this up; we’ve been clamoring for a live album for some time (Elektra released a radio-only promotional live record, but it was never made available to the general public). If for some reason you’ve considering passing this one up, though, correct yourself. TMBG have another winner here. Severe Tire Damage is not to be missed. Restless Records, 1616 Vista Del Mar, Hollywood, CA 90028; http://www.tmbg.com